The eyes of the golf world are on Northern Ireland and a local boy done done good this week at Royal Portrush Golf Club. Rory McIlroy enters The Open Championship week as the odds on favorite. From about an hour to the south in Hollywood, just east of Belfast — McIlroy has fond memories of Portush. At age 16, he carded an 11-under 61 at the 2005 North of Ireland Amateur Open. McIlroy welcomes the world’s finest golfers to his rugged neck of the woods on the northern coast of the Emerald Isle.
Portrush has two links golf courses — Dunluce Links (the championship course) and the Valley Links. Significant changes were made to Dunluce Links ahead of this year’s Open. Despite a few edits — the venue remains a prime layout for McIlroy. The top online sports betting sites make him the clear favorite to win the tournament.
The Northern Irishman is a four-time major champion, the 2016 FedEx Cup champion and the 2012 and 2014 PGA Player of the Year. However, he hasn’t won a major since 2014. He’s played well this year — he has 11 top 10’s in just 14 events — that’s a hefty 79-percent. He currently sits third in the FedEx Cup rankings and just a month ago he cleared the field by seven shots at the RBC Canadian Open for a runway win. The Irish stars are aligned and there isn’t a better track for McIlroy.
And there will also be a lot of love for world No. 1 Brooks Koepka. His caddy Ricky Elliott, is from Portrush. “I’ve played there a lot growing up but Brooks hits the ball differently than the lines I hit it on,” Elliott said. “I’ll have to work on my yardage book for Brooks playing it but obviously a little local knowledge doesn’t hurt. Brooks has got a big following in Portrush, probably because of me, so he’ll be well supported and I think Portrush will be set up well for him.”
Koepka’s a five-time winner on the European Tour and is comfortable on a rugged links course. The American has stacked four majors since McIlroy — his best finish in The Open is a 2017 T6. No practice — no problem — four of Koepka’s six wins are majors.
The field is stacked full of talent, from veteran superstars like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson to young maestros such as Jon Rahm. The Spaniard is one of a number of talented players bidding to win a first ever major, along with the likes of Rickie Fowler, Xander Schauffele, Tommy Fleetwood and Patrick Cantlay. Consistent stars such as Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose could well be in the mix, while defending champion Francesco Molinari cannot be forgotten.
Holes have been extended and stretched throughout the course, with new tees designed to provide a major test. Look out for White Rocks, the par-four fifth hole that will encourage bombers to have a go, and Calamity Corner, the par-three sixteenth that backs over a chasm. “No two holes run consecutively in the same direction, always twisting and turning,” Gary McNeill, Royal Portrush Head PGA Professional, recently told the Irish Times. “Players will have to deal with different wind directions and plateaued greens. That said, there is nothing tricked up about the course, no hidden agendas. I honestly believe Royal Portrush has a blend of all the things that are great about Open Championship venues. It has the difficulty of a Carnoustie or Birkdale, the scenery of Turnberry plus the fairness of a Muirfield or Hoylake.”
Photo credits: The R&A